Intelligence in the American Revolutionary War
Intelligence in the American Revolutionary War was essentially monitored and sanctioned by the Continental Congress
Continental Congress
The Continental Congress was a convention of delegates called together from the Thirteen Colonies that became the governing body of the United States during the American Revolution....

 to provide military intelligence
Military intelligence
Military intelligence is a military discipline that exploits a number of information collection and analysis approaches to provide guidance and direction to commanders in support of their decisions....

 to the Continental Army
Continental Army
The Continental Army was formed after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War by the colonies that became the United States of America. Established by a resolution of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, it was created to coordinate the military efforts of the Thirteen Colonies in...

 to aid them in fighting the British
Kingdom of Great Britain
The former Kingdom of Great Britain, sometimes described as the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain', That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, shall upon the 1st May next ensuing the date hereof, and forever after, be United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN. was a sovereign...

 during the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

. The Congress created a Secret Committee for domestic intelligence, a Committee of Secret Correspondence
Committee of Secret Correspondence
The Committee of Secret Correspondence was a Revolutionary American council dedicated to attaining European support for the war for independence. The CSC's most notable success was convincing the French government to support the colonials' cause. The organization was formed on November 29, 1775 by...

 for foreign intelligence, and a committee on spies, for tracking spies within the Patriot
Patriot (American Revolution)
Patriots is a name often used to describe the colonists of the British Thirteen United Colonies who rebelled against British control during the American Revolution. It was their leading figures who, in July 1776, declared the United States of America an independent nation...


Secret Committee

The Second Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met briefly during 1774,...

 had created a Secret Committee by a resolution
Resolution (law)
A resolution is a written motion adopted by a deliberative body. The substance of the resolution can be anything that can normally be proposed as a motion. For long or important motions, though, it is often better to have them written out so that discussion is easier or so that it can be...

 on September 18, 1775. The Committee was not, however, a true intelligence agency, since the Committee of Secret Correspondence with which it often worked was mainly concerned with obtaining military supplies in secret and distributing them and selling gunpowder to privateers chartered
Letter of marque
In the days of fighting sail, a Letter of Marque and Reprisal was a government licence authorizing a person to attack and capture enemy vessels, and bring them before admiralty courts for condemnation and sale...

 by the Congress. The Committee also took over and administered on a uniform basis the secret contracts for arms
A weapon, arm, or armament is a tool or instrument used with the aim of causing damage or harm to living beings or artificial structures or systems...

 and gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

 previously negotiated by certain members of the Congress without the formal sanction of that body. The Committee kept its transactions secret and destroyed many of its records to ensure the confidentiality of its work.

The Secret Committee employed agents overseas, often in cooperation with the Committee of Secret Correspondence. It gathered intelligence about secret Loyalist
Loyalist (American Revolution)
Loyalists were American colonists who remained loyal to the Kingdom of Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War. At the time they were often called Tories, Royalists, or King's Men. They were opposed by the Patriots, those who supported the revolution...

 ammunition stores and arranged to seize them. The Committee also sent missions to seize British supplies in the southern colonies
Southern Colonies
The Southern Colonies in North America were established by Europeans during the 16th and 17th centuries and consisted of olden South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and Georgia. Their historical names were the Colony and Dominion of Virginia, the Province of Carolina, and the Province...

. It arranged the purchase of military stores through intermediaries to conceal the fact that Congress was the true purchaser. They then used foreign flag
A flag is a piece of fabric with a distinctive design that is usually rectangular and used as a symbol, as a signaling device, or decoration. The term flag is also used to refer to the graphic design employed by a flag, or to its depiction in another medium.The first flags were used to assist...

s to attempt to protect the vessels from the British fleet.

The members of the Continental Congress appointed to the Committee included some of the most influential and responsible members of the Congress: Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

, Robert Morris
Robert Morris (merchant)
Robert Morris, Jr. was a British-born American merchant, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution...

 , Robert Livingston
Robert Livingston (1746-1813)
Robert R Livingston was an American lawyer, politician, diplomat from New York, and a Founding Father of the United States. He was known as "The Chancellor," after the office he held for 25 years....

, John Dickinson
John Dickinson (delegate)
John Dickinson was an American lawyer and politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware. He was a militia officer during the American Revolution, a Continental Congressman from Pennsylvania and Delaware, a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, President of...

, Thomas Willing
Thomas Willing
Thomas Willing was an American merchant and financier and a Delegate to the Continental Congress from Pennsylvania....

, Thomas McKean
Thomas McKean
Thomas McKean was an American lawyer and politician from New Castle, in New Castle County, Delaware and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the American Revolution he was a delegate to the Continental Congress where he signed the United States Declaration of Independence and the Articles of...

, John Langdon
John Langdon
John Langdon was a politician from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and one of the first two United States senators from that state. Langdon was an early supporter of the Revolutionary War and later served in the Continental Congress...

, and Samuel Ward.

Committee of (Secret) Correspondence

Recognizing the need for foreign intelligence and foreign alliances, the Second Continental Congress created the Committee of Correspondence (soon renamed the Committee of Secret Correspondence) by a resolution of November 29, 1775:

RESOLVED, That a committee of five would be appointed for the sole purpose of corresponding with our friends in Great Britain, and other parts of the world, and that they lay their correspondence before Congress when directed;

RESOLVED, That this Congress will make provision to defray all such expenses as they may arise by carrying on such correspondence, and for the payment of such agents as the said Committee may send on this service.

The original Committee members—America's first foreign intelligence agency—were Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

, Benjamin Harrison
Benjamin Harrison V
Benjamin Harrison V was an American planter and revolutionary leader from Charles City County, Virginia. He earned his higher education at the College of William and Mary, and he was perhaps the first figure in the Harrison family to gain national attention...

, and Thomas Johnson
Thomas Johnson (governor)
Thomas Johnson was an American jurist with a distinguished political career. He was the first Governor of Maryland, a delegate to the Continental Congress and an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States....

. Subsequent appointees included James Lovell
James Lovell (delegate)
James Lovell was an American educator and statesman from Boston, Massachusetts. He was a delegate for Massachusetts to the Continental Congress from 1777 to 1782. He was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation....

, a teacher who had been arrested by the British after the battle of Bunker Hill
Battle of Bunker Hill
The Battle of Bunker Hill took place on June 17, 1775, mostly on and around Breed's Hill, during the Siege of Boston early in the American Revolutionary War...

 on charges of spying. He had later been exchanged for a British prisoner and was elected to the Continental Congress. On the Committee, he became the Congress' expert on codes and ciphers and has been called the father of American cryptanalysis
Cryptanalysis is the study of methods for obtaining the meaning of encrypted information, without access to the secret information that is normally required to do so. Typically, this involves knowing how the system works and finding a secret key...


The committee employed secret agents abroad, conducted covert operations, devised codes and ciphers, funded propaganda activities, authorized the opening of private mail, acquired foreign publications for use in analysis, established a courier system, and developed a maritime capability apart from that of the Continental Navy
Continental Navy
The Continental Navy was the navy of the United States during the American Revolutionary War, and was formed in 1775. Through the efforts of the Continental Navy's patron, John Adams and vigorous Congressional support in the face of stiff opposition, the fleet cumulatively became relatively...

, and engaged in regular communications with Britons and Scots who sympathized with the American cause. It met secretly in December 1775 with a French intelligence agent who visited Philadelphia under cover as a Flemish merchant
A merchant is a businessperson who trades in commodities that were produced by others, in order to earn a profit.Merchants can be one of two types:# A wholesale merchant operates in the chain between producer and retail merchant...


On April 17, 1777, the Committee of Secret Correspondence was renamed the Committee of Foreign Affairs but kept with its intelligence function. Matters of diplomacy were conducted by other committees or by the Congress as a whole. On January 10, 1781, the Department of Foreign Affairs—the forerunner of the Department of State—was created and tasked with "obtaining the most extensive and useful information relative to foreign affairs", the head of which was empowered to correspond "with all other persons from whom he may expect to receive useful information."

Committee on Spies

On June 5, 1776, the Congress appointed John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

, Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

, Edward Rutledge
Edward Rutledge
Edward Rutledge was an American politician and youngest signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. He later served as the 39th Governor of South Carolina.-Early years and career:...

, James Wilson
James Wilson
James Wilson was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. Wilson was elected twice to the Continental Congress, and was a major force in drafting the United States Constitution...

, and Robert Livingston "to consider what is proper to be done with persons giving intelligence to the enemy or supplying them with provisions." They were charged with revising the Articles of War
Articles of War
The Articles of War are a set of regulations drawn up to govern the conduct of a country's military and naval forces. The phrase was first used in 1637 in Robert Monro's His expedition with the worthy Scots regiment called Mac-keyes regiment etc. and can be used to refer to military law in general...

 in regard to espionage directed against the American forces. The problem was an urgent one: Dr. Benjamin Church
Benjamin Church
Dr. Benjamin Church was effectively the first Surgeon General of the U.S. Army, serving as the "Chief Physician & Director General" of the Medical Service of the Continental Army from July 27, 1775 to October 17, 1775. He was also active in Boston's Sons of Liberty movement in the years before the...

, chief physician of the Continental Army
Continental Army
The Continental Army was formed after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War by the colonies that became the United States of America. Established by a resolution of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, it was created to coordinate the military efforts of the Thirteen Colonies in...

, had already been seized and imprisoned as a British agent, but there was no civilian espionage act, and George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 thought the existing military law did not provide punishment severe enough to afford a deterrent. On November 7, 1775, the death penalty was added for espionage to the Articles of War, but the clause was not applied retroactively, and Dr. Church escaped execution.

On August 21, 1776, the Committee's report was considered by the Congress, which enacted the first espionage act:

RESOLVED, That all persons not members of, nor owing allegiance to, any of the United States of America, as described in a resolution to the Congress of the 29th of June last, who shall be found lurking as spies in or about the fortification or encampments of the armies of the United States, or of any of them, shall suffer death, according to the law and usage of nations, by sentence of a court martial, or such other punishment as such court martial may direct.

It was resolved further that the act "be printed at the end of the rules and articles of war." On February 27, 1778, the law was broadened to include any "inhabitants of these states" whose intelligence activities aided the enemy in capturing or killing British forces.

Secrecy and protection

The Committee of Secret Correspondence insisted that matters pertaining to the funding and instruction of intelligence agents be held within the Committee. In calling for the Committee members to "lay their proceedings before Congress," the Congress, by resolution, authorized "withholding the names of the persons they have employed, or with whom they have corresponded." On May 20, 1776, when the Committee's proceedings—with the sensitive names removed—were finally read in the Congress, it was "under the injunction of secrecy." The Continental Congress, recognizing the need for secrecy in regard to foreign intelligence, foreign alliances and military matters, maintained "Secret Journals," apart from its public journals, to record its decisions in such matters.

On November 9, 1775, the Continental Congress adopted its own oath of secrecy, one more stringent than the oaths of secrecy it would require of others in sensitive employment:
"RESOLVED, That every member of this Congress considers himself under the ties of virtue, honour and love of his country, not to divulge, directly or indirectly, any matter or thing agitated or debated in Congress, before the same shaft have been determined, without the leave of the Congress: nor any matter or thing determined in Congress, which a majority of the Congress shall order to be kept secret, And that if any member shall violate this agreement, he shall be expelled this Congress, and deemed an enemy to the liberties of America, and liable to be treated as such, and that every member signify his consent to this agreement by signing the same."

On June 12, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the first secrecy agreement for employees of the new government. The required oath read:
"I do solemnly swear, that I will not directly or indirectly divulge any manner or thing which shall come to my knowledge as (clerk, secretary) of the board of War and Ordnance for the United Colonies. . . So help me God."

The Continental Congress, sensitive to the vulnerability of its covert allies, respected their desire for strict secrecy. Even after France's declaration of war against England, the fact of French involvement prior to that time remained a state secret. When Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine
Thomas "Tom" Paine was an English author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States...

, in a series of letters to the press in 1777, divulged details of the secret aid from the files of the Committee of Foreign Affairs (formerly, the Committee of Secret Correspondence), France's Minister to the United States, Conrad Alexandre Gerard, protested to the president of the Congress that Paine's indiscreet assertions "bring into question the dignity and reputation of the King, my master, and that of the United States." Congress dismissed Paine, and by public resolution denied having received such aid, resolving that "His Most Christian Majesty, the great and generous ally of the United States, did not preface his alliance with any supplies whatever sent to America."

In 1779, George Washington and John Jay
John Jay
John Jay was an American politician, statesman, revolutionary, diplomat, a Founding Father of the United States, and the first Chief Justice of the United States ....

, the president of the Continental Congress and a close associate of the Commander in Chief's on intelligence matters, disagreed about the effect disclosure of some intelligence would have on sources and methods. Washington wanted to publicize certain encouraging information that he judged would give "a certain spring to our affairs" and bolster public morale. Jay replied that the intelligence "is unfortunately of such a Nature, or rather so circumstanced, as to render Secrecy necessary." Jay prevailed.


Robert Townsend
Robert Townsend (spy)
Robert Townsend was a member of the Culper Ring during the American Revolution. With the aliases “Samuel Culper, Jr.” and “723,” Townsend operated in New York City and gathered information as a service to General George Washington...

, an important American agent in British-occupied New York, used the guise of being a merchant, as did Silas Deane
Silas Deane
Silas Deane was an American merchant, politician and diplomat. Originally a supporter of American independence Deane served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and then as the United States' first foreign diplomat when he travelled to France to lobby the French government for aid...

 when he was sent to France by the Committee of Secret Correspondence. Townsend was usually referred to by his cover name of "Culper, Junior." When Major Benjamin Tallmadge
Benjamin Tallmadge
Benjamin Tallmadge was a member of the United States House of Representatives. His birth date is alternately listed as February 25, 1754....

, who directed Townsend's espionage work, insisted that he disengage himself from his cover business to devote more time to intelligence gathering, General Washington overruled him: "it is not my opinion that Culper Junior should be advised to give up his present employment. I would imagine that with a little industry he will be able to carry on his intelligence with greater security to himself and greater advantages to us, under the cover of his usual business. . .. it prevents also those suspicions which would become natural should he throw himself out of the line of his present employment." Townsend also was the silent partner of a coffee house frequented by British officers, an ideal place for hearing loose talk that was of value to the American cause.

Major John Clark
John Clark (spy)
Maj. John Clark was an American spy for George Washington, primarily responsible for running the intelligence network in and around Philadelphia during the British occupation of that city during the American Revolutionary War....

's agents in and around British-controlled Philadelphia used several covers (farmer, peddler, and smuggler, among others) so effectively that only one or two operatives may have been detained. The agents traveled freely in and out of Philadelphia and passed intelligence to Washington about British troops, fortifications, and supplies, and of a planned surprise attack.

Enoch Crosby
Enoch Crosby
Enoch Crosby was an American soldier and spy during the Revolutionary War. His life may have been the basis for the character Harvey Birch in James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Spy.-Early life:...

, a counterintelligence officer, posed as an itinerant shoemaker (his civilian trade) to travel through southern New York while infiltrating Loyalist cells. After the Tories started to suspect him when he kept "escaping" from the Americans, Crosby's superiors moved him to Albany, New York
Albany, New York
Albany is the capital city of the U.S. state of New York, the seat of Albany County, and the central city of New York's Capital District. Roughly north of New York City, Albany sits on the west bank of the Hudson River, about south of its confluence with the Mohawk River...

, where he resumed his undercover espionage.

John Honeyman
John Honeyman
John Honeyman was an American spy for George Washington, primarily responsible for gathering the intelligence crucial to Washington's victory in the Battle of Trenton.- Early life and career :...

, an Irish weaver who had offered to spy for the Americans, used several covers (butcher, Tory, British agent) to collect intelligence on British military activities in New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

. He participated in a deception operation that left the Hessians in Trenton
Trenton, New Jersey
Trenton is the capital of the U.S. state of New Jersey and the county seat of Mercer County. As of the 2010 United States Census, Trenton had a population of 84,913...

 unprepared for Washington's attack
Battle of Trenton
The Battle of Trenton took place on December 26, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, after General George Washington's crossing of the Delaware River north of Trenton, New Jersey. The hazardous crossing in adverse weather made it possible for Washington to lead the main body of the...

 across the Delaware River
Delaware River
The Delaware River is a major river on the Atlantic coast of the United States.A Dutch expedition led by Henry Hudson in 1609 first mapped the river. The river was christened the South River in the New Netherland colony that followed, in contrast to the North River, as the Hudson River was then...

 on December 26, 1776.


In January 1778, Nancy Morgan Hart, who was tall, muscular, and cross-eyed, disguised herself as a "touched" or crazy man and entered Augusta, Georgia
Augusta, Georgia
Augusta is a consolidated city in the U.S. state of Georgia, located along the Savannah River. As of the 2010 census, the Augusta–Richmond County population was 195,844 not counting the unconsolidated cities of Hephzibah and Blythe.Augusta is the principal city of the Augusta-Richmond County...

, to obtain intelligence on British defenses. Her mission was a success. Later, when a group of Tories attacked her home to gain revenge, she captured them all and was witness to their execution.

In June 1778, General Washington instructed Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee to send an agent into the British fort at Stony Point, New York
Stony Point, New York
Stony Point is a triangle-shaped town in Rockland County, United States. Rockland County is part of the New York Metropolitan Area. The town is located north of the town of Haverstraw, east and south of Orange County, New York, and west of the Hudson River and Westchester County. The population...

, to gather intelligence on the exact size of the garrison and the progress it was making in building defenses. Captain Allan McLane took the assignment. Dressing himself as a country bumpkin
Yokel is a derogatory term referring to the stereotype of unsophisticated country people.-Stereotype:In the US, it is used to describe someone living in rural areas...

 and utilizing the cover of escorting a Mrs. Smith into the fort to see her sons, McLane spent two weeks collecting intelligence within the British fort and returned safely.

Secret writing

While serving in Paris as an agent of the Committee of Secret Correspondence, Silas Deane is known to have used a heat-developing invisible ink
Invisible ink
Invisible ink, also known as security ink, is a substance used for writing, which is invisible either on application or soon thereafter, and which later on can be made visible by some means. Invisible ink is one form of steganography, and it has been used in espionage...

—a compound of cobalt chloride, glycerine and water—for some of his intelligence reports back to America. Even more useful to him later was a "sympathetic stain" created for secret communications by James Jay, a physician and the brother of John Jay. Dr. Jay, who had been knighted by George III
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

, used the "stain" for reporting military information from London to America. Later he supplied quantities of the stain to George Washington at home and to Silas Deane in Paris.

The stain required one chemical for writing the message and a second to develop it, affording greater security than the ink used by Deane earlier. Once, in a letter to John Jay
John Jay
John Jay was an American politician, statesman, revolutionary, diplomat, a Founding Father of the United States, and the first Chief Justice of the United States ....

, Robert Morris spoke of an innocuous letter from "Timothy Jones" (Deane) and the "concealed beauties therein," noting "the cursory examinations of a sea captain would never discover them, but transferred from his hand to the penetrating eye of a Jay, the diamonds stand confessed at once."

Washington instructed his agents in the use of the "sympathetic stain," noting in connection with "Culper Junior" that the ink "will not only render his communications less exposed to detection, but relieve the fears of such persons as may be entrusted in its conveyance." Washington suggested that reports could be written in the invisible ink "on the blank leaves of a pamphlet. . . a common pocket book, or on the blank leaves at each end of registers, almanacks, or any publication or book of small value."

Washington especially recommended that agents conceal their reports by using the ink in correspondence: "A much better way is to write a letter in the Tory stile with some mixture of family matters and between the lines and on the remaining part of the sheet communicate with the Stain the intended intelligence."

Even though the Patriots took great care to write sensitive messages in invisible ink, or in code or cipher, it is estimated that the British intercepted and decrypted over half of America's secret correspondence during the war.

Codes and ciphers

American Revolutionary leaders used various methods of cryptography
Cryptography is the practice and study of techniques for secure communication in the presence of third parties...

 to conceal diplomatic, military, and personal messages.

John Jay and Arthur Lee devised dictionary codes in which numbers referred to the page and line in an agreed-upon dictionary edition where the plaintext (unencrypted message) could be found.

In 1775, Charles Dumas designed the first diplomatic cipher that the Continental Congress and Benjamin Franklin used to communicate with agents and ministers in Europe. Dumas's system substituted numbers for letters in the order in which they appeared in a preselected paragraph of French prose containing 682 symbols. This method was more secure than the standard alphanumeric substitution system, in which a through z are replaced with 1 through 26, because each letter in the plain text could be replaced with more than one number.

The Culper Spy Ring used a numerical substitution code developed by Major Benjamin Tallmadge
Benjamin Tallmadge
Benjamin Tallmadge was a member of the United States House of Representatives. His birth date is alternately listed as February 25, 1754....

, the network's leader. The Ring began using the code after the British captured some papers indicating that some Americans around New York were using "sympathetic stain." Tallmadge took several hundred words from a dictionary and several dozen names of people or places and assigned each a number from 1 to 763. For example, 38 meant attack, 192 stood for fort, George Washington was identified as 711, and New York was replaced by 727. An American agent posing as a deliveryman transmitted the messages to other members of the Ring. One of them, Anna Strong, signaled the message's location with a code involving laundry hung out to dry. A black petticoat indicated that a message was ready to be picked up, and the number of handkerchiefs identified the cove on Long Island Sound
Long Island Sound
Long Island Sound is an estuary of the Atlantic Ocean, located in the United States between Connecticut to the north and Long Island, New York to the south. The mouth of the Connecticut River at Old Saybrook, Connecticut, empties into the sound. On its western end the sound is bounded by the Bronx...

 where the agents would meet. By the end of the war, several prominent Americans—among them Robert Morris, John Jay, Robert Livingston, and John Adams—were using other versions of numerical substitution codes.

The Patriots had two notable successes in breaking British ciphers. In 1775, Elbridge Gerry
Elbridge Gerry
Elbridge Thomas Gerry was an American statesman and diplomat. As a Democratic-Republican he was selected as the fifth Vice President of the United States , serving under James Madison, until his death a year and a half into his term...

 and the team of Elisha Porter and the Rev. Samuel West, working separately at Washington's direction, decrypted a letter that implicated Dr. Benjamin Church, the Continental Army's chief surgeon, in espionage for the British.

In 1781, James Lovell, who designed cipher systems used by several prominent Americans, determined the encryption method that British commanders used to communicate with each other. When a dispatch from Lord Cornwallis
Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis
Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis KG , styled Viscount Brome between 1753 and 1762 and known as The Earl Cornwallis between 1762 and 1792, was a British Army officer and colonial administrator...

 in Yorktown, Virginia
Yorktown, Virginia
Yorktown is a census-designated place in York County, Virginia, United States. The population was 220 in the 2000 census. It is the county seat of York County, one of the eight original shires formed in colonial Virginia in 1634....

, to General Henry Clinton
Henry Clinton (American War of Independence)
General Sir Henry Clinton KB was a British army officer and politician, best known for his service as a general during the American War of Independence. First arriving in Boston in May 1775, from 1778 to 1782 he was the British Commander-in-Chief in North America...

 in New York was intercepted, Lovell's cryptanalysis enabled Washington to gauge how desperate Cornwallis's situation was and to time his attack on the British lines
Siege of Yorktown
The Siege of Yorktown, Battle of Yorktown, or Surrender of Yorktown in 1781 was a decisive victory by a combined assault of American forces led by General George Washington and French forces led by the Comte de Rochambeau over a British Army commanded by Lieutenant General Lord Cornwallis...

. Soon after, another decrypt by Lovell provided warning to the French fleet off Yorktown that a British relief expedition was approaching. The French scared off the British flotilla
Battle of the Chesapeake
The Battle of the Chesapeake, also known as the Battle of the Virginia Capes or simply the Battle of the Capes, was a crucial naval battle in the American War of Independence that took place near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on 5 September 1781, between a British fleet led by Rear Admiral Sir Thomas...

, sealing victory for the Americans.

Intercepting communications

The Continental Congress regularly received quantities of intercepted British and Tory mail. On November 20, 1775, it received some intercepted letters from Cork, Ireland, and appointed a committee made up of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Johnson, Robert Livingston, Edward Rutledge, James Wilson and George Wythe "to select such parts of them as may be proper to publish." The Congress later ordered a thousand copies of the portions selected by the Committee to be printed and distributed. A month later, when another batch of intercepted mail was received, a second committee was appointed to examine it. Based on its report, the Congress resolved that "the contents of the intercepted letters this day read, and the steps which Congress may take in consequence of said intelligence thereby given, be kept secret until further orders." By early 1776, abuses were noted in the practice, and Congress resolved that only the councils or committees of safety of each colony, and their designees, could henceforth open the mail or detain any letters from the post.

When Moses Harris reported that the British had recruited him as a courier for their Secret Service, General Washington proposed that General Schuyler "contrive a means of opening them without breaking the seals, take copies of the contents, and then let them go on. By these means we should become masters of the whole plot." From that point on, Washington was privy to British intelligence pouches between New York and Canada.


Dr. James Jay used the advanced technology of his time in creating the invaluable "sympathetic stain" used for secret communications. Perhaps the American Patriots' most advanced application of technology was in David Bushnell's Turtle
Turtle (submarine)
The Turtle was the world's first submersible with a documented record of use in combat. It was built in Old Saybrook, Connecticut in 1775 by American Patriot David Bushnell as a means of attaching explosive charges to ships in a harbor...

, a one-man submarine created for affixing watchwork-timed explosive charges to the bottom of enemy ships.

The "turtle," now credited with being the first use of the submarine in warfare, was an oaken chamber about five-and-a-half feet (1.6 m) wide and seven feet (2.1 m) high. It was propelled by a front-mounted, pedal-powered propeller at a speed of up to three miles per hour (5 km/h), had a barometer
A barometer is a scientific instrument used in meteorology to measure atmospheric pressure. Pressure tendency can forecast short term changes in the weather...

 to read depth, a pump to raise or lower the submarine through the water, and provision for both lead and water ballast
Ballast tank
A ballast tank is a compartment within a boat, ship or other floating structure that holds water.-History:The basic concept behind the ballast tank can be seen in many forms of aquatic life, such as the blowfish or argonaut octopus, and the concept has been invented and reinvented many times by...


When Bushnell learned that the candle used to illuminate instruments inside the "turtle" consumed the oxygen in its air supply, he turned to Benjamin Franklin for help. The solution: the phosphorescent weed, foxfire
Foxfire (bioluminescence)
Foxfire, also sometimes referred to as "fairy fire", is the bioluminescence created by some species of fungi present in decaying wood. The bluish green glow is attributed to luciferase, an oxidizing agent, which emits light as it reacts with luciferin...

. Heavy tides thwarted the first sabotage operation. A copper-clad hull which could not be penetrated by the submarine's auger foiled the second. (The "turtle" did blow up a nearby schooner, however.) The secret weapon would almost certainly have achieved success against a warship if it had not gone to the bottom of the Hudson River
Hudson River
The Hudson is a river that flows from north to south through eastern New York. The highest official source is at Lake Tear of the Clouds, on the slopes of Mount Marcy in the Adirondack Mountains. The river itself officially begins in Henderson Lake in Newcomb, New York...

 when the mother ship to which it was moored was sunk by the British in October 1776.

An early device developed for concealing intelligence reports when traveling by water was a simple weighted bottle that could be dropped overboard if there was a threat of capture. This was replaced by a wafer-thin leaden container in which a message was sealed. It would sink in water, and melt in fire, and could be used by agents on land or water. It had one drawback—lead poisoning
Lead poisoning
Lead poisoning is a medical condition caused by increased levels of the heavy metal lead in the body. Lead interferes with a variety of body processes and is toxic to many organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, and reproductive and nervous systems...

 if it was swallowed. It was replaced by a silver, bullet-shaped container that could be unscrewed to hold a message and which would not poison a courier who might be forced to swallow it.

Intelligence analysis and estimates

On May 29, 1776, the Continental Congress received the first of many intelligence estimates prepared in response to questions it posed to military commanders. The report estimated the size of the enemy force to be encountered in an attack on New York, the number of Continental troops needed to meet it, and the kind of force needed to defend the other New England colonies.

An example of George Washington's interest in intelligence analysis and estimates can be found in instructions he wrote to General Putnam in August 1777:

"Deserters and people of that class always speak of number. . . indeed, scarce any person can form a judgement unless he sees the troops paraded and can count the divisions. But, if you can by any means obtain a list of the regiments left upon the island, we can compute the number of men within a few hundreds, over or under." On another occasion, in thanking James Lovell for a piece of intelligence, Washington wrote: "it is by comparing a variety of information, we are frequently enabled to investigate facts, which were so intricate or hidden, that no single clue could have led to the knowledge of them. . . intelligence becomes interesting which but from its connection and collateral circumstances, would not be important."

Colonel David Henley
Colonel David Henley
David Henley was a Continental Army officer during the American Revolutionary War, who served as George Washington's intelligence officer and Prisoner of war commandant...

, Washington's intelligence chief for a short period in 1778, received these instructions when he wrote to Washington for guidance: "Besides communicating your information as it arises. . . you might make out a table or something in the way of columns, under which you might range, their magazines of forage, grain and the like, the different corps and regiments, the Works, where thrown up, their connexion, kind and extent, the officers commanding, with the numbers of guns &ca. &ca. This table should comprehend in one view all that can be learned from deserters, spies and persons who may come out from the enemy's boundaries." (It was common practice to interrogate
Interrogation is interviewing as commonly employed by officers of the police, military, and Intelligence agencies with the goal of extracting a confession or obtaining information. Subjects of interrogation are often the suspects, victims, or witnesses of a crime...

 travelers from such British strongholds as New York, Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

 and Philadelphia.)

George Washington

George Washington was a skilled manager of intelligence. He utilized agents behind enemy lines, recruited both Tory and Patriot sources, interrogated travelers for intelligence information, and launched scores of agents on both intelligence and counterintelligence missions. He was adept at deception operations and tradecraft and was a skilled propagandist. He also practiced sound operational security.

As an intelligence manager, Washington insisted that the terms of an agent's employment and his instructions be precise and in writing. He emphasized his desire for receiving written, rather than verbal, reports. He demanded repeatedly that intelligence reports be expedited, reminding his officers of those bits of intelligence he had received which had become valueless because of delay in getting them to him. He also recognized the need for developing many different sources so that their reports could be cross-checked, and so that the compromise of one source would not cut off the flow of intelligence from an important area.

Washington sought and obtained a "secret service fund" from the Continental Congress, and expressed preference for specie, preferably gold: "I have always found a difficulty in procuring intelligence by means of paper money, and I perceive it increases." In accounting for the sums in his journals, he did not identify the recipients: "The names of persons who are employed within the Enemy's lines or who may fall within their power cannot be inserted."

He instructed his generals to "leave no stone unturned, nor do not stick to expense" in gathering intelligence, and urged that those employed for intelligence purposes be those "upon whose firmness and fidelity we may safely rely."

Washington's intelligence officers

Washington retained full and final authority over Continental Army intelligence activities, but he delegated significant field responsibility to trusted officers. Although he regularly urged all his officers to be more active in collecting intelligence, Washington relied chiefly on his aides and specially designated officers to assist him in conducting intelligence operations. The first to assume this role appears to have been Joseph Reed
Joseph Reed (jurist)
Joseph Reed was a Pennsylvania lawyer, military officer, and statesman of the Revolutionary Era. He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and, while in Congress, signed the Articles of Confederation...

, who fulfilled the duties of "Secretary, Adjutant General and Quarter Master, besides doing a thousand other little Things which fell incidentally." A later successor to Reed was Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

, who is known to have been deeply involved with the Commander-in-Chief's intelligence operations, including developing reports received in secret writing and investigating a suspected double agent.

When Elias Boudinot was appointed Commissary General of Prisoners, responsible for screening captured soldiers and for dealing with the British concerning American patriots whom they held prisoner, Washington recognized that the post offered "better opportunities than most other officers in the army, to obtain knowledge of the Enemy's Situation, motions and... designs," and added to Boudinot's responsibilities "the procuring of intelligence." In 1778, Washington selected Brigadier General Charles Scott of Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

 as his "intelligence chief." When personal considerations made it necessary for Scott to step down, Washington appointed Colonel David Henley to the post temporarily, and then assigned it to Major Benjamin Tallmadge. Tallmadge combined reconnaissance with clandestine visits into British territory to recruit agents, and he attained distinction for his conduct of the Culper Ring operating out of New York.

In 1776, George Washington picked Thomas Knowlton
Thomas Knowlton
Thomas Knowlton was an American patriot who served in the French and Indian War and was a Colonel during the American Revolution. Knowlton is considered America's first Intelligence professional, and his unit, Knowlton's Rangers, made a significant contribution to intelligence gathering during...

 to command the Continental Army's first intelligence unit, known as "Knowlton's Rangers." Intelligence failure during the battle of Long Island
Battle of Long Island
The Battle of Long Island, also known as the Battle of Brooklyn or the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, fought on August 27, 1776, was the first major battle in the American Revolutionary War following the United States Declaration of Independence, the largest battle of the entire conflict, and the...

 convinced Washington that he needed an elite detachment dedicated to reconnaissance that reported directly to him. Knowlton, who had served in a similar unit during the French and Indian War
French and Indian War
The French and Indian War is the common American name for the war between Great Britain and France in North America from 1754 to 1763. In 1756, the war erupted into the world-wide conflict known as the Seven Years' War and thus came to be regarded as the North American theater of that war...

, led 130 men and 20 officers—all hand-picked volunteers—on a variety of secret missions that were too dangerous for regular troops to conduct. The date 1776 on the seal of the Army's intelligence service today refers to the formation of Knowlton's Rangers.

Other intelligence officers who served with distinction during the War of Independence included Captain Eli Leavenworth, Major Alexander Clough, Colonel Elias Dayton, Major John Clark, Major Allan McLane, Captain Charles Craig and General Thomas Mifflin.

Paul Revere and the Mechanics

The first Patriot intelligence network on record was a secret group in Boston known as the Mechanics, which meant skilled workers. The group, also known as the Liberty Boys, apparently grew out of the old Sons of Liberty
Sons of Liberty
The Sons of Liberty were a political group made up of American patriots that originated in the pre-independence North American British colonies. The group was formed to protect the rights of the colonists from the usurpations by the British government after 1766...

 organization that had successfully opposed the Stamp Act
Stamp Act
A stamp act is any legislation that requires a tax to be paid on the transfer of certain documents. Those that pay the tax receive an official stamp on their documents, making them legal documents. The taxes raised under a stamp act are called stamp duty. This system of taxation was first devised...

. The Mechanics organized resistance to British authority and gathered intelligence. In the words of one of its members, Paul Revere, "in the Fall of 1774 and winter of 1775, I was one of upwards of thirty, chiefly mechanics, who formed ourselves into a Committee for the purpose of watching British soldiers and gaining every intelligence on the movements of the Tories." According to Revere, "We frequently took turns, two and two, to watch the (British) soldiers by patrolling the streets all night."

In addition, the Mechanics sabotage
Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. In a workplace setting, sabotage is the conscious withdrawal of efficiency generally directed at causing some change in workplace conditions. One who engages in sabotage is...

d and stole British military equipment in Boston. Their security practices, however, were amateurish. They met in the same place regularly (the Green Dragon Tavern
Green Dragon Tavern
Green Dragon Tavern was a public house used as a tavern and meeting place located on Union Street in Boston's North End.A petition for a license to sell "strong drink" at the Green Dragon was presented in 1714. The property had been inherited by Mehitable Cooper from her father, William Stoughton,...

), and one of their leaders (Dr. Benjamin Church) was a British agent.

Through their intelligence sources, the Mechanics were able to see through the cover story the British had devised to mask their march on Lexington and Concord
Battles of Lexington and Concord
The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War. They were fought on April 19, 1775, in Middlesex County, Province of Massachusetts Bay, within the towns of Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Menotomy , and Cambridge, near Boston...

. Dr. Joseph Warren, chairman of the Committee of Safety, charged Revere with the task of warning Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams was an American statesman, political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. As a politician in colonial Massachusetts, Adams was a leader of the movement that became the American Revolution, and was one of the architects of the principles of American...

 and John Hancock
John Hancock
John Hancock was a merchant, statesman, and prominent Patriot of the American Revolution. He served as president of the Second Continental Congress and was the first and third Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts...

 at Lexington, Massachusetts
Lexington, Massachusetts
Lexington is a town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 31,399 at the 2010 census. This town is famous for being the site of the first shot of the American Revolution, in the Battle of Lexington on April 19, 1775.- History :...

, that they were the probable targets of the enemy operation. Revere arranged for the warning lanterns to be hung in Old North Church
Old North Church
Old North Church , at 193 Salem Street, in the North End of Boston, is the location from which the famous "One if by land, and two if by sea" signal is said to have been sent...

 to alert patriot forces at Charlestown, and then set off on his famous ride. He completed his primary mission of notifying Adams and Hancock. Then Revere, along with Dr. Samuel Prescott and William Dawes, rode on to alert Concord, only to be apprehended by the British en route. Dawes got away, and Dr. Prescott managed to escape soon afterward and to alert the Patriots at Concord. Revere was interrogated and subsequently released, after which he returned to Lexington to warn Hancock and Adams of the proximity of British forces.

Revere then turned to another mission, retrieving from the local tavern a trunk belonging to Hancock and filled with incriminating papers. With John Lowell, Revere went to the tavern and, as he put it, during "a continual roar of Musquetry... we made off with the Trunk."

Paul Revere had served as a courier prior to his "midnight ride" and continued to do so during the early years of the war. One of his earlier missions was perhaps as important as the Lexington ride. In December 1774, Revere rode to the Oyster River
Oyster River (New Hampshire)
The Oyster River is about 17 miles long and located in Strafford County, southeastern New Hampshire, United States. It rises in Barrington, flows southeast to Lee, then east-southeast in a serpentine course past Durham to meet the entrance of Great Bay into Little Bay...

 in New Hampshire
New Hampshire
New Hampshire is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. The state was named after the southern English county of Hampshire. It is bordered by Massachusetts to the south, Vermont to the west, Maine and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Canadian...

 with a report that the British, under General Thomas Gage
Thomas Gage
Thomas Gage was a British general, best known for his many years of service in North America, including his role as military commander in the early days of the American War of Independence....

, intended to seize Fort William and Mary
Fort William and Mary
Fort William and Mary was a colonial defensive post on the island of New Castle, New Hampshire at the mouth of the Piscataqua River estuary. First fortified by the British in 1632, the fort guarded access to the harbor at Portsmouth....

. Armed with this intelligence, Major John Sullivan of the colonial militia led a force of four hundred men in an attack on the fort. The one hundred barrels of gunpowder taken in the raid were ultimately used by the Patriots to cover their retreat from Bunker Hill
Battle of Bunker Hill
The Battle of Bunker Hill took place on June 17, 1775, mostly on and around Breed's Hill, during the Siege of Boston early in the American Revolutionary War...


Nathan Hale

Nathan Hale is probably the best known but least successful American agent in the War of Independence. He embarked on his espionage mission into British-held New York as a volunteer, impelled by a strong sense of patriotism and duty. Before leaving on the mission he reportedly told a fellow officer: "I am not influenced by the expectation of promotion or pecuniary award; I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary. If the exigencies of my country demand a peculiar service, its claims to perform that service are imperious."

But dedication was not enough. Captain Hale had no training experience, no contacts in New York, no channels of communication, and no cover story to explain his absence from camp—only his Yale
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

 diploma supported his contention that he was a "Dutch schoolmaster." He was captured while trying to slip out of New York, was convicted as a spy and went to the gallows on September 22, 1776. Witnesses to the execution reported the dying words that gained him immortality (a paraphrase of a line from Joseph Addison
Joseph Addison
Joseph Addison was an English essayist, poet, playwright and politician. He was a man of letters, eldest son of Lancelot Addison...

's play Cato): "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." After he was accused of being a spy he told him his name, rank, and reason for being there then he gave a soldier a letter to his family later then he ripped it up. he asked to see a bible and he said no.

Haym Salomon

The same day that Nathan Hale was executed in New York, British authorities arrested another Patriot and charged him with being a spy. Haym Salomon was a recent Jewish immigrant who worked as a stay-behind agent after Washington evacuated New York City in September 1776. Salomon was arrested in a round-up of suspected Patriot sympathizers and was confined to Sugar House Prison. He spoke several European languages and was soon released to the custody of General von Heister
Leopold Philip de Heister
Leopold Philip de Heister was a Hessian general who fought for the British during the American Revolution. He was a crippled veteran of many campaigns when he was selected to command the Hessian troops that were hired by the British government for service against the American colonies...

, commander of Hessian mercenaries, who needed someone who could serve as a German language
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 interpreter in the Hessian commissary department. While in German custody, Salomon induced a number of the German troops to resign or desert.

Eventually paroled, Salomon did not flee to Philadelphia as had many of his New York business associates. He continued to serve as an undercover agent and used his personal finances to assist American patriots held prisoner in New York. He was arrested again in August 1778, accused this time of being an accomplice in a plot to burn the British fleet and to destroy His Majesty's warehouses in the city. Salomon was condemned to death for sabotage, but he bribed his guard while awaiting execution and escaped to Philadelphia. There he came into the open in the role for which he is best known, as an important financier of the Revolution.

Abraham Patten

Less than a year after Nathan Hale was executed, another American agent went to the gallows in New York. On June 13, 1777, General Washington wrote the President of Congress: "You will observe by the New York paper, the execution of Abm. (Abraham) Patten. His family deserves the generous Notice of Congress. He conducted himself with great fidelity to our Cause rendering Services and has fallen a Sacrifice in promoting her interest. Perhaps a public act of generosity, considering the character he was in, might not be so eligible as a private donation."

Culper Ring

"Most accurate and explicit intelligence" resulted from the work of Abraham Woodhull
Abraham Woodhull
Captain Abraham Cooper Woodhull, Esq. was a member of the Culper Spy Ring during the American Revolution. After the Revolution, he served as a magistrate and a judge. It may be that James Fenimore Cooper's character Harry Birch was based upon his work as a spy.-Background:Woodhull's father was a...

 on Long Island and Robert Townsend in British-occupied New York City. Their operation, known as the Culper Ring from the operational names used by Woodhull (Culper, Sr.) and Townsend (Culper, Jr.), effectively used such intelligence tradecraft as codes, ciphers and secret ink for communications; a series of couriers and whaleboats to transmit reporting; at least one secret safe house, and numerous sources. The network was particularly effective in picking up valuable information from careless conversation wherever the British and their sympathizers gathered.

One female member of the Culper Ring, known only by her codename "355," was arrested shortly after Benedict Arnold
Benedict Arnold
Benedict Arnold V was a general during the American Revolutionary War. He began the war in the Continental Army but later defected to the British Army. While a general on the American side, he obtained command of the fort at West Point, New York, and plotted to surrender it to the British forces...

's defection in 1780 and evidently died in captivity. Details of her background are unknown, but 355 (the number meant "lady" in the Culper code) may have come from a prominent Tory family with access to British commanders and probably reported on their activities and personalities. She was one of several females around the debonaire Major André
John André
John André was a British army officer hanged as a spy during the American War of Independence. This was due to an incident in which he attempted to assist Benedict Arnold's attempted surrender of the fort at West Point, New York to the British.-Early life:André was born on May 2, 1750 in London to...

, who enjoyed the company of young, attractive, and intelligent women. Abraham Woodhull, 355's recruiter, praised her espionage work, saying that she was "one who hath been ever serviceable to this correspondence." Arnold questioned all of André's associates after his execution in October 1780 and grew suspicious when the pregnant 355 refused to identify her paramour. She was incarcerated on the squalid prison ship Jersey, moored in the East River. There she gave birth to a son and then died without disclosing that she had a common-law husband–Robert Townsend, after whom the child was named.

One controversial American agent in New York was the King's Printer, James Rivington. His coffee house, a favorite gathering place for the British, was a principal source of information for Culper, Jr. (Townsend), who was a silent partner in the endeavor. George Washington Parke Custis suggests that Rivington's motive for aiding the patriot cause was purely monetary. Custis notes that Rivington, nevertheless, "proved faithful to his bargain, and often would provide intelligence of great importance gleaned in convivial moments at Sir William's or Sir Henry's table, be in the American camp before the convivialists had slept off the effects of their wine. The King's printer would probably have been the last man suspected, for during the whole of his connection with the secret service his Royal Gazette piled abuse of every sort upon the cause of the American general and the cause of America." Rivington's greatest espionage achievement was acquiring the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

's signal book in 1781. That intelligence helped the French fleet repel a British flotilla trying to relieve General Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Hercules Mulligan

Hercules Mulligan ran a clothing shop that was also frequented by British officers in occupied New York. The Irish immigrant was a genial host, and animated conversation typified a visit to his emporium. Mulligan was the first to alert Washington to two British plans to capture the American Commander-in-Chief and to a planned incursion into Pennsylvania. Besides being an American agent, Mulligan also was a British counterintelligence failure. Before he went underground as an agent, he had been an active member of the Sons of Liberty and the New York Committees of Correspondence and Observation, local Patriot intelligence groups. Mulligan had participated in acts of rebellion, and his name had appeared on Patriot broadsides distributed in New York as late as 1776. But every time he fell under suspicion, the popular Irishman used his gift of "blarney
Blarney is a town and townland in County Cork, Ireland. It lies north-west of Cork and is famed as the site of Blarney Castle, home of the legendary Blarney Stone.-Tourism:Blarney town is a major tourist attraction in County Cork...

" to talk his way out of it. The British evidently never learned that Alexander Hamilton, Washington's aide-de-camp, had lived in the Mulligan home while attending King's College
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

, and had recruited Mulligan and possibly Mulligan's brother, a banker and merchant who handled British accounts, for espionage.
Hercules Mulligan was also a spy.

Lewis Costigin

Lieutenant Lewis J. Costigin, walked the streets of New York freely in his Continental Army uniform as he collected intelligence. Costigin had originally been sent to New York as a prisoner and was eventually paroled under oath not to attempt escape or communicate intelligence. In September 1778, he was designated for prisoner exchange and freed of his parole oath. But he did not leave New York, and until January 1779 he roamed the city in his American uniform, gathering intelligence on British commanders, troop deployments, shipping, and logistics while giving the impression of still being a paroled prisoner.

William Heath

On May 15, 1780, General Washington instructed General Heath to send intelligence agents into Canada. He asked that they be those "upon whose firmness and fidelity we may safely rely," and that they collect "exact" information about Halifax
City of Halifax
Halifax is a city in Canada, which was the capital of the province of Nova Scotia and shire town of Halifax County. It was the largest city in Atlantic Canada until it was amalgamated into Halifax Regional Municipality in 1996...

 in support of a French requirement for information on the British defense works there. Washington suggested that qualified draftsmen be sent. James Bowdoin, who later became the first president of the American Academy of Arts and Science, fulfilled the intelligence mission, providing detailed plans of Halifax harbor, including specific military works and even water depths.

Daniel Bissell

In August 1782, General Washington created the Badge of Military Merit
Badge of Military Merit
The Badge of Military Merit is considered the first military award of the United States Armed Forces. Although the Fidelity Medallion is older, after being issued to three soldiers for a specific event in 1780 it was never awarded again, so the Badge of Military Merit is often considered the oldest...

, to be issued "whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed... not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way." Through the award, said Washington, "the road to glory in a Patriot army and a free country is thus open to all." The following June, the honor was bestowed on Sergeant Daniel Bissell, who had "deserted" from the Continental Army, infiltrated New York, posed as a Tory, and joined Benedict Arnold's "American Legion." For over a year, Bissell gathered information on British fortifications, making a detailed study of British methods of operation, before escaping to American lines.

Dominique L'Eclise

Dominique L'Eclise, a Canadian who served as an intelligence agent for General Schuyler, had been detected and imprisoned and had all his property confiscated. After being informed by General Washington of the agent's plight, the Continental Congress on October 23, 1778, granted $600 to pay L'Eclise's debts and $60, plus one ration a day "during the pleasure of Congress," as compensation for his contribution to the American cause.

Lydia Darragh

Family legend contributes the colorful but uncorroborated story of Lydia Darragh and her listening post for eavesdropping on the British. Officers of the British force occupying Philadelphia chose to use a large upstairs room in the Darragh house for conferences. When they did, Mrs. Darragh would slip into an adjoining closet and take notes on the enemy's military plans. Her husband, William, would transcribe the intelligence in a form of shorthand on tiny slips of paper that Lydia would then position on a button mold before covering it with fabric. The message-bearing buttons were then sewn onto the coat of her fourteen-year-old son, John, who would then be sent to visit his elder brother, Lieutenant Charles Darragh, of the American forces outside the city. Charles would snip off the buttons and transcribe the shorthand notes into readable form for presentation to his officers.

Lydia Darragh is said to have concealed other intelligence in a sewing-needle packet which she carried in her purse when she passed through British lines. Some espionage historians have questioned the credibility of the best-known story of Darragh's espionage: that she supposedly overheard British commanders planning a surprise night attack against Washington's army at Whitemarsh
Battle of White Marsh
The Battle of White Marsh or Battle of Edge Hill was a battle of the Philadelphia campaign of the American Revolutionary War fought December 5–8, 1777, in the area surrounding Whitemarsh Township, Pennsylvania...

 on December 4, 1777. The cover story she purportedly used to leave Philadelphia—she was filling a flour sack at a nearby mill outside the British lines because there was a flour shortage in the city—is implausible because there was no shortage and a lone woman would not have been allowed to roam around at night, least of all in the area between the armies.

See also

External links

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